Samsung Q40 review
A great ultraportable for the price; small, stylish and lightweight, it's only a whisker away from the A List.
Making a good ultraportable laptop is a tricky business, but there are a few manufacturers that have turned it into an art. Samsung is one of them, and it's had considerable success in the past in getting the right mix between battery life, functional performance, usability and style. In this case, much of the groundwork for Samsung's offering was done with its predecessor, the Q30, which had a sleek chassis and a great feeling of quality. However, there's considerable competition from Sony when it comes to dinky, stylish ultraportables.
The VAIO VGN-TX3XP is clearly the main competitor. The Q40 has the confident stylishness to go toe-to-toe with the VAIO, with a sleek red lid (it also comes in silver) and no-fuss keyboard area. It near enough matches the dimensions and weight of the VAIO too: 1.2kg (with its small battery) and 286 x 196 x 22-32mm (WDH). The most obvious difference between the two is that the VAIO has an integrated DVD writer to the Q40's external drive, while the Q40 is £267 cheaper. This price also includes a second, larger battery. Both Q40 batteries have power gauges too, so you can see how much charge is left without turning on the notebook or even plugging in a battery.
However, even using both batteries, the Q40 can't match the five hours intensive use or nine hours light use of the single-battery VAIO. Combined, the batteries die a full hour before the VAIO in light use, although the large battery's five-hour light-use score remains highly respectable. Still, the VAIO is a better travel option; there's no external optical drive to lug around, nor a second battery to forget. Add these into the Q40, and its travelling weight increases to 1.9kg.
The Q40 is a fair bit cheaper, though, and yet it matches the VAIO in almost every other area. The keyboard is a particular pleasure to use, with just enough travel and resistance when pressing the keys. Despite its small dimensions, it remains big enough for free-flowing typing, and it's well arranged too. It isn't without some foibles - the Tab key, for example, is single width, but the overall quality is excellent. And the touchpad, while small, is smooth and responsive.
While not as well built as the keyboard, the chassis itself offers a reasonable level of protection against knocks. The thin plastic body is supported by a rigid magnesium alloy frame, so any flex in the chassis flex is minimised. However, the screen does bend alarmingly with a little force. But we could have copied this paragraph from our review of the TX3XP, as it shares exactly the same strengths and weaknesses.
The screen itself is a glossy, vibrant one, just as with the Sony, but it measures 12.1in diagonally with 1,280 x 768 pixels. The TX3XP has a smaller 11.1in screen with a DVD-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio, a 1,366 x 768 resolution and slightly more generous vertical viewing angles. The narrowness of the angle on the Q40 makes it appear to have uneven backlighting toward its vertical extremes, although it's still perfectly usable in most situations.
Both ultraportables sport 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 CPUs, mobile-processing miracles that draw a maximum of 5.5W, while still being fast enough to handle the everyday demands of the travelling worker. The Q40 has 1.25GB of RAM to the VAIO's 1GB, but it scores only 0.29 in our multitasking test to the 0.37 of the Sony. The hot-to-touch base of the Q40 makes us suspect some minor overheating, and CPU throttling occurred during benchmarking. Other key hardware is also remarkably similar: both ultraportables have 60GB hard disks, 802.11a/b/g and Bluetooth, and only two USB ports.